Monday, 10 June 2013

Bradford Town, don't get me down.

I know it's been a while. I think I've found adjusting to life back at home harder than I thought I would, and so it's taken a little longer than it has in the past to collect all my thoughts and feelings into a comprehensible piece of writing, but here they are. I began this on the 3rd of May, so it's a journey through my feelings just under a month after I returned, up to today - 2 months on.

I am sitting on my bed, in my house at the top of a hill, looking out at my view over the city.

As always, its mill chimneys and church spires look rather striking, some days piercing a veil of mist, others bathed in that glorious sunshine that, for it's very being in the North has the wonderful quality of a rare and precious stone. Today, a nondescript greyness hangs low over Bradford, as the soot black brick terraces of Heaton stretch off into the distance, pointing towards town. The stadium is just visible to the left of my view, peeking out from behind a tree; the setting for Bradford's loss against Burton Albion a while ago (NB this was started before their stonking win at Wembley - second time lucky!)

Every New Year and Bonfire Night I gallop to the top of the house to get the best view in Heaton, as my own private fireworks display whizz pops into life over the outstretched city, bringing delight to my face.

But, it's not New Year or Bonfire night. It's May 3rd and I am unemployed and cold and seeking jobseekers allowance and most importantly, not in South America. 

In a furious bid to stop that sinking into the black hole that threatens to pull every recently-returned traveller into its icy depths, I have filled my tiny tiny diary with events and projects. At the minute, my main things are: 

Pass driving test 
Show on BCB Radio about South American Music
Volunteer with old people on a project that gets them to reminisce about the past
Play ukulele in the nursery my niece goes to
Get our dark room set up again for use
Volunteer at Bradford Bike Hub
Cook lots
Read lots
See great people AKA friends

and so far, things are panning out pretty nicely, which is good. My show is underway, and a fun project to get my teeth stuck into, reminisce about the sick choons I heard throughout my travels, and learn a little more about the history of South America. My driving lessons are going swimmingly (no swimming involved, though that would be interesting...) and I'm looking to take my test fairly soon (driving theory test taken today - passed!), cycling is brilliant, and generally I am minimising hugely the amount of time I spend at home with my mad family (who I love).


Since coming back, I'm finding that I'm actually seeing Bradford in a new way. My first trip into town after I got back, I had this very strange sensation that I was actually seeing Bradford for the first time. The huge number of empty carcasses of buildings, like the purple, palatial old entertainment, Bingo hall on Manningham road as I pedal my way into the city centre, an old second hand shop, windows crammed full with dusty broken objects, now completely useless. The Odeon...god love it, who knows what's going on there? I want it to be filled with life and activity and great events again, it such a brilliant un-tapped resource as an ace venue in Bradford's city centre.

The hole.

The hole is still there. How long has it been now? What, 5 years? It's still bloody there. Every time the bus goes past it I feel this pit opening up in my stomach. Not such a dissimilar description to the very thing causing me such a feeling.

I know I knew it before, but the poverty is stark; crisp and clear in my eyes. The general complexion of Bradfordions, I notice, is grey. Skin is largely crinkled by years of cheap cigarettes, and mouths are plaster-of-paris'ed into a permanent downwards crag, deep rivulets snaking down cheeks.

I feel like I'm visiting a friend in their city, and seeing all the uncared-abouts of Bradford - unemployment, segregation between the myriad of ethnic groups who live in this enormous industrial urban sprawl. It sinks in to my heart slowly, and I get this suffocating, desperate urge to run away. Get a train to the coast, get a bus up to the moors, rid myself of the chains of this city, crippled by capitalism and the endless struggle to keep up the pace of its fitter, more athletic and superficially charming sister, Leeds.

For a few weeks, I try to avoid going in.
I feel painfully displaced and like a complete outsider.
The only time I feel liberated is when I go for a romp up Keighley Gate, where the land stretches into one gloriously rugged rolling sea of rusty browns and worming dry stone walls. While my fingers go numb as I munch on a picnic on top of a rock, wind blowing like tubular bells into my ears, biting them hard with it's icy teeth, my heart is slowly warming my cockles, and a smile is creeping onto my wind-pink face.

After all, there is nothing like a walk in the Yorkshire moors to make you realise the sheer aching, soaring beauty that we live so wonderfully near to, and I see exactly what it is I have missed about this beautiful part of the country - my home.

So, since this moment of beautiful revelation, I have begun to see again, that the concrete slab that is Bradford, is in fact crumbling away in parts to reveal, not only some stunning Northern-stone architecture (you only need to look up), but also that in those lovely, cosy dark cracks, there are in fact some pretty brightening and exciting things going on, which are working hard to crumble away more concrete and make visible the Bradford that exists beneath the surface. It was there in those days of searching and cringing away from it, I had just forgotten where to look.

Helping out two dear friends with their month-long venture to fill one empty shop carcass with a once again beating heart gave me a unique insight into what the people of Bradford feel about their own city. I think many share the belief that Bradford 'needs something' to get people interested in investing in it, the recent uses of empty spaces, such as a new dark room (on the low down), the Baked Zines that moved in after the vintage shop, and Hand Made in Bradford's recent (if a little downgrading) move - all demonstrate that things can be achieved if enough people want change. City Park is looking more bustling than ever; filled with lunching office workers, getting their toes out in the recent sunshine, families with kids on school holidays, all enjoying the input of the council. The exciting news I received upon my arrival of the Odeon's purchase for £1 in a bid shows new potential for a brilliant building in Bradford to be saved and once again used and loved by Bradfordians. As does the uprising against new plans to get rid of the National Media Museum - one of the most important buildings and attractions in Bradford today. Even John Hurt is getting involved! (Do be sure to sign the petition - link at the bottom of the blog)

Also getting to know better the brilliant people I share this city (and actually, my village!) with has been lovely - it's easy to forget sometimes how lucky I am to share this Northern turf with some of the country's best humans (you know who you are). Bonfires, music, beer, crafting, dinners and general joy have been my medium of spending time with these excellent folk, and long may it continue.

These brilliant examples of humankind also factor in the excellent oldies I spend my Wednesday afternoons with. Last week we were talking about the matter of employment (a very potent issue in current times). Bill's tales of working 9-5 in a mill from the age of 14, and having to take his pay-packet home to his mum, who only then gave him 7p - 7 pence of that wage, is a concept completely beyond my comprehension. Winnie's stories of her first year as a teacher - the post of which she took up on the 1st of September 1939, just two days before the declaration of war, meaning that with the closure of all the schools within a two mile radius from the City Hall in the centre of town, her duties in that year involved taking care of children who had been evacuated.

"That year revealed a lot about the poverty in Bradford. A lot." Winnie makes this comment after telling us about how she and her colleagues used to organise through old clothes to hand out to children living in the city who had "only they clothes on their back, and nothing more". I listen to this amazing 93 year old woman in raptured silence. She is filled to the brim with wonderful and terrible tales of the past, and I want to know them all. That will be coming to an end soon, however, and I'm keen to continue spending time with these amazing vessels of cracking yarns, given the lack of crinkly crackers in my own life.

Other Things I Am Enjoying

  • Cooking a lot, recipes are super fun - I'm not terribly creative and so the sort-of-boshing-whatever-is-in-the-fridge normally ends in weird and definitely not wonderful concoctions of fried onions with star pasta and corguette...or something equally bizarre. 

  • Getting geared up to start my Master in Visual Anthropology in Manchester in September which I am TOTALLY PSYCHED about! Film training! Academic stimulation! Hard work! Yesssss. 

  • Using my newly tidied dark room complete with fresh chemicals to make beautiful black and white pictures once more

  • Playing music

  • Bloody lovely sunshine.

So there we are. A small journey from the murky depths of an anti-climactic return home, to the bountiful joys that my wee city has to offer. I hope you're enjoying some beautiful weather, wherever you may be, and realising that maybe, things aren't as bad/ugly/broken/smelly/dark as you thought they were.

(but sometimes they are)

Links to Great Things in and around my Life in Bradford can be found here: - beautiful website about saving the Odeon - Save Bradford National Media Museum - My first radio show!  - Brilliant blog about music and culture in South America - Live Bollywood version of Carmen in Bradford City Park - Something nice about knitting

Tuesday, 9 April 2013


Well. What a long and full adventure it has be for the past half a year.

Argentina feels like a decade ago, and yet I can still taste my first empanadas when I look at the photograph...
Bolivia's Sucre feels like a dream and yet I close my eyes and I am playing ukulele into the sunset at Gringo's on the terrace, wine by my side and friends gathered round the tables...
Peru's Cusco is so far behind me but when I look at my drawing from the mirador, I remember all the fun we had in our apartment and the most amazing New Year we had in the plaza... strange to think I was there, and yet I remember those landscapes so very vividly...
Colombia, my final destination...the taste of the fresh coffee I sampled in Salento still on my tongue...

It has been the most phenomenal, truly beautiful and amazing half a year, I can't quite believe all the things I have seen, let alone all the places I have been... Incredible ruins, cacti-dotted deserts, the salt flats of Bolivia that blew me away, winding bus journeys through gaping valley mouths, new and unfamiliar and stunning birds and animals, amazing, intricate textiles, incredible and interesting new food (chicken foot soup), a myriad of accents as I moved from country to country, new rhythms as I danced my way through the continent...

And as I have danced, I have collected many new wonderful human beings along the way, who have helped make this whole journey a lot more flippin excellent and I hope to know you all forever :)

But now it is time to return to dear old Bradford, who will not even have noticed my absence, changed very little, and is completely unlike anywhere I have been on my trip. It will be strange to have seen so much and to slot back in to the normal rhythm of life again, I have forgotten what that feels like, to be based somewhere, not to be able to move around whenever I want...

I'm not quite sure how to feel in this odd space between here and there... I will sleep on the flight and when I wake up we will be coming into Heathrow airport, Simon will be nearer to me than he had been for a whole six months and I will finally be in a country where people say "tomato" instead of "tomayto" or "tomate". Where a good cup of tea is always at my fingertips, and the countryside is rugged and wild and beautifully bleak. Where I say "cheers" instead of "gracias", "hiya" instead of "hola". I will miss Spanish dearly, not to mention all the different accents I have meant, how everything in Peru and Ecuador ends in "ito" or "ita", making it all very small, Argentina's "sh" instead of "y" when ll is used like " me llamo Ruth".

In less than 12 hours I will be home again. England. How very weird. All I ask is that the sun shines and the daffodils smile at me.

See you soon, dear country.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Evaluating Ecuador and concluding Colombia

Dear Ecuador,
So you have seen me climbing volcanoes, counting butterflies, visiting universities, working on a farm, walking round valleys, singing karaoke (maybe more than once...), strolling round markets, bathing in hot baths and buying a hat (see below). You have been beautiful and magical and filled with gorgeous greens and fertility. I have loved you, thanks for the good times.
Maybe see you in October...
Yours, always,
Ruth Webber

Dear Colombia,
Although having reached the end of my trip and perhaps being slightly underwhelmed by your salsa capital (did go out the once though, and a damned good time I had too), I have thoroughly enjoyed  your hills and your sugar cane juice, your coconut water, your wild R-UM-BA, and your R-UM actually... Your hot and dusty coast, your exotic fish, your WARM WARM seas, your palm trees, your dominoes and your super pervy men.

Since crossing your borders (which went without a single problem, as you can tell no kidnapping has thus yet occurred) I have visited Cali, your salsa capital, been lucky enough to nab a dance with Ricardo (swoon) the best salsa dancer in the whole club, then salsa danced my way into your beautiful lush green coffee region, where we spent a few days relaxing in the stunning Salento, that felt much like Villcabamba in Ecuador. Here, we played a whole lot of pool, drank a whole lot of Colombiano beers, played Tejo, a brilliant game which consists of throwing heavy lead pucks at a square of clay, in which is a metal ring with 4 packets of gunpowder placed on, so when you hit them they explode, and you get awarded different points according to where your pucks land. It's free to play but you have to drink beers. I love Colombia for this game, "hey, how about we invent a game where you have to drink beer and blow stuff up?" excellent. England should have got there first, maybe I will introduce it to our pyromaniac country. So from the smoke of the gunpowder, we went on a coffee tour, discovered all about the process of making coffee, very interesting, and then got to sample some FRESH coffee, which was very enjoyable, as well as consuming a number of ripe and ready bananas straight from the tree. Salento also had a number of great cafes, which saw us eat delicious curry, an INCREDIBLE peanut butter and chocolate brownie, a heowge and yummy burger, and drink some delicious home made raspberry and strawberry wine. Yum  yum yum.
And an ultimate burger always tastes better after an 18km hike...

So from Salento, Adam and I took a 26 HOUR BUS RIDE. Hell it was. Absolute hell. Buuuuut we eventually arrived in Taganga, a wee beach town near Santa Marta, filled with tourists but a great place to eat a delicious fish dish, have a lovely little swim, and a great base from which to travel to the beautiful national park Tayrona where we slept in hammocks by night and lay on the beach by day. Thoroughly enjoyable. Hammocks more comfortable than first thought as a bed.

Mina was our next stop, where we met up with our delightful and dear Frenchies, Quentin and Celemence, at the top of a BLOODY GREAT BIG HILL which we walked up with our million kilo rucksacks, but to at last reach the wonderful Casa Loma hostel, with a beautiful view of the valley, amazing sunsets, gorgeous communal meals, hammocks and a good musical jamming session. We loved Minca, eating lunch in the river was a personal highlight, as well as finding a secret swimming spot away from the Easter weekend crowds. Moving on from Minca to the stunning Cartagena with the Francaises has been the most recent jaunt, which has so far been an absolute hoot (see pictures)  and I will be very sad to say goodbye to them tomorrow.

But as I have learnt from traveling, people come and go as you move around, and some stick while others float alongside you for a while, disappearing into the ether once you say goodbye. But there are always the ones who sink that little bit further in, remaining forever in your heart and head, and who will always be around for a jolly good knees up, wherever in the world they may be.